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The best computer monitors

  • Picking up one of the best computer monitors is at least as important as a fast desktop or laptop. You'll be staring at the monitor you pick for hours every day, so it's important that it deliver a bright, clear, colorful image.
  • These recommendations come from in-depth testing of dozens of monitors with a professional calibration device and were further informed by a decade of monitor review experience. 
  • The Dell S2721QS is an outstanding 4K monitor that delivers everything most people need in a monitor and much more, making it our top pick for best monitor.

The Dell S2721QS is the best computer monitor overall in 2021. It's a bright, brilliant, sharp 4K monitor with outstanding image quality by any measure, but its mid-range pricing makes it more approachable than most monitors with similar performance. It even has a high adjustable stand and an attractive, modern design.

I considered dozens of monitors for the top spot, comparing them to a database of monitor testing results I've compiled since 2012. While the Dell S2721QS is clearly the best value among the monitors I tested, it's not the only monitor that should be on your radar. I've selected several alternatives for a wide range of buyers, from home office users who desire a reliable budget pick, to content creators who need excellent image quality. 

Here are our top picks for the best computer monitor:

Updated on 1/11/2021 by Matthew Smith: Completely re-wrote article for 2021 with new picks across all subcategories. 

The best computer monitor overall
Dell monitor

Dell's affordable S2721QS 4K monitor delivers a sharp, vibrant picture with decent color accuracy and ergonomics.

Pros: Sharp 4K resolution, respectable color accuracy, stand offers ergonomic adjustments, attractive design

Cons: HDR support is poor

The Dell S2721QS is easily the best deal in today's monitor market. Although technically sold at an MSRP of $489.99, this monitor is nearly always "on sale" for $359.99 or less, and occasionally dips to $300 on Amazon. That's very reasonable. Yet the Dell S2721QS sacrifices nothing for affordability.

Its quality is obvious out of the box. It's built from simple but study silver plastic that resists flex when handled. Connectivity options include two HDMI 2.0 ports and one DisplayPort 1.2. Speakers are included and provide adequate quality for a small home office. The monitor is bordered by thin bezels on three sides, giving it a modern look. 

An ergonomically adjustable stand is included and provides 150mm of height adjustment, 60 degrees of swivel, and 25 degrees of tilt. The monitor can also pivot 90 degrees and be used in a vertical orientation. That's not unusual for a $300 monitor, but it ticks off all the right boxes. You'll easily find a comfortable position that works with your desk.

Dell really delivers in image quality. The S2721QS crams in 163 pixels per inch, twice that of a 27-inch, 1080p monitor. It also scores well in color tests, covering 100% of the sRGB color gamut and serving color accuracy that's just a hair worse than professional grade monitors. It has a respectable contrast ratio of 1,150:1, which provides a realistic sense of depth in photos and movies. 

The S2721QS is technically an HDR monitor, and its measured peak brightness of 438 nits is extremely high for a monitor in this price range. However, it lacks local backlight dimming, a key feature in HDR televisions. As a result, HDR content differs little from SDR. This flaw exists in every monitor solid at this price point, however, and many that are much more expensive, so I'm willing to give the S2721QS a pass.

This monitor is often sold out at online retailers. Consider Dell's S2721Q if you need an alternative. The display panel is identical, but the stand only adjusts for tilt. Fortunately, it has a VESA mount, so you can attach it to a VESA-compatible ergonomic stand from a third-party company or an older monitor.

The best computer monitor under $200
Samsung monitor

Samsung's C27F398 27-inch punches way above its weight in image quality and color for an incredible price.

Pros: Good contrast ratio, vibrant color, realistic image quality

Cons: Stand only adjusts for tilt, feels cheap, mediocre maximum brightness

Buying a budget monitor is overwhelming. Hundreds of models sell under $200, and most are nearly identical. However, one monitor stands out from the rest: Samsung's C27F398.

The key to this monitor's success is its use of VA panel technology, which achieves a better contrast ratio than the IPS or TN panel technology found in most budget monitors. The result? Samsung's C27F398 has a punchy, attractive image that dominates most competitors. 

Samsung goes above and beyond elsewhere, too. The C27F398's color covers 97% of the sRGB color gamut and is accurate for the price, though it falls far short of the best monitor, Dell's S2721QS. 

On the downside, Samsung puts all its money in the monitor's display. The surrounding plastic feels fragile and the featherweight stand only adjusts for tilt. Luckily, the monitor has a standard VESA mount, so you can attach it to a more robust stand. The monitor only has one HDMI and one VGA input.

While I recommend the Samsung C27F398 27-inch, Samsung offers many similar monitors in the CF300 series. They're all good options, so choose whichever has the most attractive pricing when you buy.

The best ultrawide computer monitor
Dell ultrawide monitor

The Dell Ultrasharp U3421WE marries premium image quality with outstanding USB-C connectivity and durability.

Pros: Outstanding image quality, attractive and durable, with 3-year warranty, USB-C hub with 90 watts of power delivery

Cons: Very expensive for its size

Ultrawide monitor pricing plunged throughout 2019 and 2020. If you want the best, however, you'll need to spend a small fortune on Dell's Ultrasharp U3421WE. It's a luxurious ultrawide with outstanding image quality that can also remove tangled wires on your desk. 

Dell's Ultrasharp line is designed for professional, color critical work. As a result, the Dell U3421WE has nearly perfect color accuracy out of the box. It also has a color gamut that spans 99% of sRGB, 99% of Rec. 709, and 95% of DCI-P3. If those figures don't mean anything to you, here's the short-and-simple. The U3421WE can display far more colors than less expensive monitors, and it can display colors as they were intended. This, combined with its sharp 3,440 x 1,440 resolution, provides visual punch few monitors can match. 

The monitor works as a USB-C hub. It has multiple ports, including four USB Type-A ports and Ethernet, and it supports up to 90 watts of power delivery over USB-C. A laptop that supports USB-C can use the monitor as a hub, reducing clutter on your desk. The monitor will even charge the laptop if it supports that feature.

While expensive, the U3421WE is built to last. It has robust, durable construction and a hefty ergonomic stand that can be adjusted for height, tilt, and swivel. Dell backs the monitor with a three-year warranty, while many competitors only include one year of coverage. 

The best computer monitor for USB-C
ViewSonic monitor

Viewsonic's VG2455 is among the most affordable USB-C monitors, yet doesn't compromise on image quality or ergonomics.

Pros: USB-C with 60 watts power delivery, sturdy ergonomic stand, solid image quality for the price

Cons: More expensive than monitors without USB-C

A USB-C monitor is a true game-changer for anyone who owns a compatible laptop. It eliminates the hassle of using multiple cables for charging, video, and peripherals. Instead, it's all handled by a single USB-C connection with the monitor. The only problem? Most USB-C monitors are expensive. 

Viewsonic's VG2455 solves that problem without giving up features. This 24-inch, 1080p monitor can deliver 60 watts of power over USB-C, which is enough to charge most laptops. It also includes three USB 3.0 Type-A ports and a USB 3.0 Type B upstream port, so the monitor can act as a USB hub. 

Though it offers USB-C at a low price, the VG2455 doesn't cut back in design or build quality. It's an attractive monitor with slim bezels on three sides and a simple, sturdy feel. The included VESA compatible monitor stand offers 130mm of height adjustment, 45 degrees of tilt, 120 degrees of swivel, and 180 degrees of pivot. That's far more than typical in this price range. 

The VG2455 even has solid image quality with good color accuracy, respectable contrast, and excellent viewing angles. It won't blow you away, but the visuals are better than average for a monitor below $250. 

While I recommend the affordable VG2455, Viewsonic offers several upgrades. You can buy the VG2455-2K if you'd like 1440p resolution with even better image quality. Need a larger monitor? Viewsonic also sells the 27-inch VG2755 and VG2755-2K, which have 1080p and 1440p resolution, respectively. They're all great value and all have USB-C with 60 watts of power delivery.

The best monitor for professionals
BenQ

BenQ's PD3220U has best-in-class color accuracy and tons of useful features for quick settings changes that creative professionals need.

Pros: Sharp 4K image, excellent color gamut and accuracy, useful "hotkey puck" control, outstanding connectivity

Cons: Mediocre contrast ratio, modest maximum brightness

Professionals seeking a do-it-all monitor need look no further than BenQ'S PD3220U. This 32-inch, 4K monitor has everything required for color-critical work in a professional setting.

The PD3220U has a color gamut covering 100% of the sRGB space and Rec. 709 color space, and 95% of DCI-P3. It has a 4K panel for outstanding clarity. It achieves an average measured color error below 1 in its DCI-P3 color mode, and just above that in its sRGB mode, prior to any calibration. The monitor even has true 10-bit color. The PD3220U's results aren't superior to the competition because most high-end professional monitors score well in these areas. Still, this monitor has all the image quality highlights a professional user will require.

This monitor has a Thunderbolt 3 port with 85 watts of power delivery and a DisplayPort alternate mode. Laptops that support Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C with DisplayPort and Power Delivery, like the Apple MacBook Pro 16 and Dell XPS 15, can connect to the BenQ with a single cable. The monitor will display video while also charging the laptop. Aside from that, the monitor has two HDMI 2.0 ports, one DisplayPort 1.4 port, and three USB 3.1 Type-A ports that can be used for USB peripherals. 

Speaking of peripherals, the BenQ PD3220U has a unique puck controller that's used to access the monitor's menu. It's fast, intuitive, and a useful feature if you frequently switch between display modes for different projects. There's still a joystick on the rear of the monitor, though, so you can change settings if you happen to lose the puck.

The BenQ PD3220U has a sturdy stand, too. It provides 150mm of height adjustment, 60 degrees of swivel, 25 degrees of tilt, and can pivot the monitor 90 degrees into a vertical orientation. The monitor uses a standard VESA mount, so you can easily attach a third-party monitor arm if desired.

While it's a wonderful monitor, the PD3220U isn't perfect. Its modest maximum brightness of 300 nits contributes to a mediocre overall contrast ratio. The monitor is bright enough to use in a corporate or home office, but not bright enough to properly display HDR, despite its compatibility with that standard. These problems make the PD3220U look less impressive than its specifications suggest in movies and games. 

Still, the BenQ PD3220U is a great all-around pick for professionals. It provides everything a professional will need, and goes the extra mile to make its advanced features accessible and easy to use.

What else we considered

The monitors that made this list are far from the only options tested. I've tested hundreds of PC monitors or laptop displays over the past decade and keep results for every display I've handled. This extensive database provides insight into not just how particular monitors perform, but also overall trends for any given brand, panel technology, or price range. Here are the other monitors considered.

  • HP VH240a ($124.99): The HP VH240a is extremely popular on Amazon, thanks to its low price and ergonomic stand. It's functional but suffers poor maximum brightness and an extremely low contrast ratio. Still, it's the best choice if you absolutely can't spend more than $125.
  • Dell S2721HSX ($209.99): The S2721HSX looks like a 1080p version of the top pick, but it performed much worse in testing. It fell short in brightness, contrast ratio, and image uniformity. The Samsung LC27F398 is a far better value.
  • Samsung Odyssey G9 ($1,479.99): This 49-inch super-ultrawide is a flagship monitor that dwarfs the top ultrawide, the Dell U3421WE. However, the Odyssey G9 has inconsistent performance and poor connectivity. It only works as a gaming monitor, and even then, only with specific games.
  • BenQ EX2780Q ($449.99): This 27-inch, 1440p monitor is popular thanks to its high refresh rate, which makes it excellent for fast-paced games. However, its pricing and quality relative to the top pick, the Dell S2721QS, makes it an inferior choice for most buyers.
  • LG 27GL83A-B ($379.99): Another 27-inch, 1440p monitor that's popular thanks to its high refresh rate, this LG can't compete with the Dell S2721QS on image quality. It is more affordable than the BenQ EX2780Q, however.
  • LG 34WN80C-B ($549.99): Though it can't match the Dell U3421WE on image quality or overall connectivity, this LG ultrawide delivers USB-C at a much lower price. Its image quality is acceptable for most owners, as well. This is a solid choice for buyers craving an ultrawide at a more reasonable price.
Our testing methodology

I benchmark the quality of monitors received for testing with a professional calibration tool that generates a detailed, objective report on monitor quality. My testing covers all critical elements of image quality including contrast, color gamut, color accuracy, brightness, black level, gamma accuracy, and uniformity. 

These objective results are filtered through over a decade of experience testing computer monitors and other displays, including laptops and smartphones. I pay close attention to a monitor's contrast, color accuracy, and gamma accuracy, as these have the most dramatic impact on image quality in normal, day-to-day use. 

There's more to a monitor than image quality, however. The best monitors include a solid, VESA compatible stand with significant height and tilt adjustments. This lets you adjust the monitor to a comfortable position or, if you'd prefer, use a third-party stand for even greater adjustment.

Connectivity is key, as well. A great monitor is no use if it can't connect to your devices. I prefer monitors with both HDMI and DisplayPort. I also prefer monitors with multiple USB ports, which makes them useful as a hub for your wired keyboard, mouse, or any other USB device you might use with a PC. USB-C with DisplayPort and Power Delivery, though still a rare feature, carries significant weight in my rankings. It's the most convenient way to connect a Windows or MacOS laptop to a monitor.

What we look forward to testing

I don't expect the monitor market will change significantly through 2021. HDR will become more common, but most monitors will still struggle to display HDR properly. Monitors with a high refresh rate will continue to surge and may become the norm by the end of 2021. 

  • Asus ProArt PA34VC Professional Curved Monitor ($999.99): This monitor, which is currently available, could be a strong alternative to the best ultrawide. It's less expensive and offers a larger screen. It's currently available, although stock can be difficult to find.
  • Alienware AW3821DW ($1,529.99): This 38-inch ultrawide is built for gamers, but its advanced feature set makes it attractive for a wide variety of owners. I've received this monitor for testing and will evaluate it soon. 
  • Acer XB323U GX ($899.99): The Predator XB323U GX is a gaming monitor that promises effective HDR with local backlight dimming and a 270Hz refresh rate. Although meant for gaming, it could be an outstanding general-use monitor if its quality lives up to expectations. It will be released in January 20201.
  • Philips 329M1RV (Price TBD): Philips is looking to prove its relevance in the monitor market with this 32-inch, 4K, high-refresh panel. The monitor's price and availability remain a mystery, however.
What's the difference between TN, IPS, and VA panel technology?

You'll frequently see the terms TN, IPS, and VA while shopping for a monitor. These terms describe the basic panel technology a monitor uses. All monitors using a specific panel technology share strengths and weaknesses.

TN stands for Twisted Nematic, and it's the oldest type of LCD panel technology still used today. Although inexpensive, TN panel technology struggles with color accuracy, color gamut, contrast, viewing angles, and maximum brightness. The falling price of newer technology has crowded TN panel technology out of the market. I recommend avoiding any monitor that still uses a TN panel.

IPS, or In-Plane Switching, surged in popularity after the turn of the millennium and is now the most common option in PC monitors and PC laptop displays. IPS panels have a solid color gamut and good color accuracy, and some are very bright. However, they can't display deep, inky blacks and instead depict dark scenes as a hazy gray. This is called "IPS glow." It's a problem if you intend to watch movies on a monitor, but much less noticeable in other situations.

VA, or Vertical Alignment, has surged in popularity over the past five years. VA panel technology is roughly equal to IPS in color gamut and accuracy but far superior in contrast ratio. A monitor using this technology can offer darker, more convincing black levels, eliminating the "IPS glow" problem. VA panels have a limited viewing angle, however, which can be a problem if the monitor is not always viewed straight-on.

Most monitors on this list use IPS panel technology. That doesn't mean IPS is superior, however. In general, IPS panel is best for productivity and general use, while VA is best for gaming and entertainment, though there's significant overlap.  

I think VA panels are the best bet for affordable monitors, which is why my pick for best monitor under $200, the Samsung CF27L398, has a VA panel. Inexpensive IPS monitors score poorly in brightness and contrast ratio.

Do you really need a 4K display?

Our pick for best computer monitor, the Dell S2721QS, has 4K resolution. To be precise, it provides a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. This is identical to any 4K television. 

4K resolution is not necessary for a good experience. Computer monitors are much smaller than televisions, so even 1080p resolution is acceptable on a 27-inch display. A 4K monitor is far superior in sharpness, however, which does improve day-to-day use.

You might expect this only matters for movies or games, but the opposite is true. A sharp, clear image is most important for day-to-day use. A 4K monitor can display details, like small fonts or tiny interface buttons, without losing clarity. The result is a more versatile display. You can decrease the size of fonts or windows to fit more on your monitor or blow them up to make them more readable. Either way, the results will look better than at 1080p or 1440p.

4K still carries a bit of a premium, so it's not an absolute necessity. Still, I recommend it if your budget allows.

Do you really need HDR?

HDR, or high dynamic range, is a standard designed to improve the contrast visible in movies, games, and other content. It helps to make bright areas of a scene brighter, and dark areas darker, creating a more dramatic and brilliant image.

Unfortunately, the computer monitor market is struggling to embrace HDR. Even the best monitors achieve a peak brightness level below budget HDR televisions. Computer monitors also rarely offer effective local backlight dimming, a feature that lets an LCD display selectively turn off portions of its backlight. 

HDR content is also more difficult to find and use on a computer. The PC versions of popular streaming apps often have limitations on HDR, and graphics hardware that's more than a few years old may not support the standard.

These problems make HDR less relevant to monitors, which is why I don't give it much weight in this list. Even monitors the best HDR monitors struggle because of inconsistent software support. Until that changes, HDR shouldn't be on your list of priorities.

Read the original article on Business Insider




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